G7 split over Joe Biden’s call for probe into origins of Covid-19

European leaders at odds at Cornwall summit as US president’s push for investigation widens rift over China

Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Cornwall
(Image credit: Phil Noble/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Joe Biden has increased tensions with both China and US allies by calling for fellow G7 leaders to rally behind a probe into whether Covid-19 originated from a lab in Wuhan.

In an intervention “that will infuriate” Beijing, says The Telegraph, Biden yesterday told reporters that while US intelligence had not reached a verdict about the origins of the coronavirus, he wanted to establish a “bottom line” for transparency to avoid future pandemics.

“Transparency matters across the board. We haven’t had access to laboratories to determine whether or not… this was a consequence of a market place and the interface with animals and the environment, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory,” the president said at a press conference following the G7 Summit in Cornwall.

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However, his comments on the possibility of a “lab leak” were “played down by other leaders” at the three-day summit, which “broke up without bridging major rifts” over how the group should deal with China.

The leaders of the seven nations - the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan - united to issue a joint statement calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to orchestrate “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based” investigation into the origins of the virus, “including in China”.

But Boris Johnson later said it was “unlikely” that the virus had leaked from a lab, while Emmanuel Macron insisted that “there was no discussion among leaders on the origins" of Covid and dismissed the leak theory as a distraction from efforts to end the pandemic.

The French president also “said the G7 was not a club that was hostile to China, despite differences over human rights”, The Telegraph reports. Macron’s stance is at odds with that of Biden, who is pushing for the G7 nations “get tougher on China’s human rights abuses”, reports The Independent.

In another demand that “threatened to divide the world’s leading democracies”, the president called on fellow leaders at the summit to use their “final communique to condemn forced labour in Xinjiang”, the paper continues. But while the communique did criticise abuses against minorities in the Chinese region, inside sources said that there was a “spectrum of how far different countries are willing to go” in their criticism of Beijing.

The UK is reportedly expected to “side with the US as a fellow hawk”, and “Canada and France are also largely endorsing Biden’s stance”, but “Germany, Italy and the EU leadership were more hesitant at a summit discussion”.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in London has “responded angrily” to the G7’s criticisms of Beijing’s human rights record, says The Guardian.

Accusing the G7 of “lies, rumours and baseless accusations”, an embassy spokesperson said that the group was taking “advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China’s internal affairs, which we firmly oppose”.

“The current epidemic is still raging around the world, and the traceability work should be carried out by global scientists and should not be politicised,” the spokesperson added.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at TheWeek.co.uk. He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.